I’m surely not alone in trying to understand the tragedy that occurred just over a week ago in Tucson. Regardless of one’s political views, it’s certainly worth considering the clear lack of civility and common courtesy that seems to be the rule rather than the exception throughout our country today.
Several days after the shootings in Arizona, I attended a meeting at one of the communities we represent in Southwest Florida and was saddened to observe a level of disrespect and rage that simply has no place in ROCs. After the meeting, several residents mentioned to me that had I not attended, the meeting would have been disrupted by a number of unit owners. Several other members approached me after the meeting and stated that I had been "duped" and hadn’t heard the "other side" of the story.
As an attorney that represents many community associations, I’ve often had to explain to unit owners that we don’t have "a dog in the fight". In other words, my role is not to take sides on any particular issue being considered by a community–I may point out factors to an association’s board of directors and membership that should be considered but assuming that the actions being discussed by the association do not violate any state, federal, or local laws, my job is to help ensure that the process that leads to the result is proper and legal.
Board members are volunteers and it’s very troubling to attend unit owner meetings where residents fail to treat a director with even a minimal amount of courtesy and respect. When a board member is shouted down or where his or her name is met with hisses or jeering, I find myself wondering what causes unit owners to demonize one of their neighbors and refuse to listen to any opinion other than their own?
How can a resident owned community survive if members no longer treat other members with simple courtesy and respect? Does any resident want to live in a community where issues are allowed to fester and be fed by rumor mongering and unfounded criticism of the motives of board members until those issues explode? Wouldn’t that resident much rather live in a community where issues are resolved by civil discussion and debate?
Every member of a resident owned community has the right to attend almost every association meeting and can inspect numerous records of the association. For example, Florida Statutes Sections 719.106 and 719.104 call for open cooperative association board meetings and access to a cooperative association’s official records.
At the same time, every association member has an obligation to be fully informed about issues that come before the board, and to treat all board members–and all unit owners–with courtesy and respect.
In a month where we cope with the carnage in Tucson and commemorate the life and death of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., I truly hope that we all rediscover the art of listening and treat each other with the civility that every one of us deserves.